Wind Farms, PV Power Plants and Smart Grid Starting to Fuel Utility Construction

March 26, 2010
Although manufacturers, distributors and reps are struggling to squeeze nickels and dimes out of the still-slumping electrical construction market, some

Although manufacturers, distributors and reps are struggling to squeeze nickels and dimes out of the still-slumping electrical construction market, some market niches are slowly but surely coming to life.

Take the utility construction market. Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for upgrades to the U.S. power grid and the expansion of Smart Grid projects is starting to trickle into the market. And according to several news reports and a white paper published by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), Washington, D.C., several massive projects that will connect utility-grade wind farms and photovoltaic power plants to the power grid are cutting through the final miles of bureaucratic red tape, will soon break ground, and will start providing power to homes and business in the next few years.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), said construction of Duke Power's $400 million Top of the World WindPower Project near Glenrock, Wyo., is now underway and will use 110 wind turbines from GE Energy and Siemens. A report posted at said the wind farm would supply 200MW of power — enough for 50,000 to 60,000 homes.

The EEI report, “Transmission Projects at a Glance,” is must-reading for anyone interested in the status of the expansion of the U.S. electrical grid, ARRA funding for Smart Grid projects and the connection of renewable resources to existing power lines. It's available for free at According to EEI, the projects covered in the report “represent the addition or upgrade of nearly 12,900 circuit miles of transmission with an accompanying transmission investment cost of approximately $37 billion dollars.”

An example of one of these projects is the Green Power Express, which when completed in 2014 will transmit power from wind farms in the North Dakota and Iowa to population centers of the Midwest and further east. It's massive in scale and will cost up to $12 billion. Says the EEI report, “The Green Power Express is fundamentally a network of 765 kV transmission lines overlaid on top of the existing transmission network in the area. On its eastern edge, the Green Power Express will interconnect with the existing 765kV network. The Green Power Express consists of approximately 3,000 miles of line.”

Another interesting utility job that's now under construction is the $2 billion Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP), which entails building more than 330 miles of lines and new substations to connect new renewable energy generation projects in Kern County, Calif. Some segments of the project will be completed in 2011; the intended total project completion date is 2015, pending the necessary licensing and regulatory approvals.

ARRA funding for Smart Grid projects is also starting to make an impact on the utility market. For instance, on Oct. 27, 2009, the DOE awarded $3.4 billion in ARRA Smart Grid Investment Grants (SGIGs) to 100 projects benefitting customers in 49 states. Ten of the 100 SGIGs fall under the “electric transmission systems” category and most of them include the installation of phasor measurement units (PMUs), which measure electrical waves on the power grid.

Although utility construction has long been a market populated by specialty distributors and distributors, manufacturers or reps with market expertise honed by decades of dealing with electric utilities, mainstream companies may start seeing some benefits from the spillover of these massive construction projects if they have branches near the jobs when they are underway.